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American Hog-peanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata

American hog-peanut climbing on purple coneflower.
American hog-peanut or hog peanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, is a vining herbaceous annual plant in the pea family (Fabaceae) native to eastern North America from Manitoba east to Nova Scotia, south to Florida, west to Texas, and north to North Dakota and Montana. It is somewhat unusual because it produces two different types of flowers and seeds – and the genus name refers to that (Greek amphi (of both kinds) and carpos (fruit). The common name comes from the underground fruits, or “peanuts”, that are dug up and eaten by wild pigs.
American hog-peanut climbs by coiling stems.
It is found in moist woods, meadows and prairies but can invade similar types of ornamental landscapes. This plant is often considered a weed when growing in cultivated places. It is a larval host for silver-spotted skipper and northern cloudywing butterflies.
This plant grows from a seed, producing a twining, branched stem that can grow up to 5 feet long during the growing season from a slender tap root. Without tendrils, it climbs by coiling the apical portion of the stem around other plant stems.
Thin, twining stems (L) wrap around other plant stems (C) and may be smooth or hairy (R).
The alternate, trifoliate leaves are attached to the thin, smooth to very hairy stem on a long petiole with stipules at its base. The three broadly oval leaflets are often asymmetrical at the base and the petiolule of the center leaflet is much longer than those of the lateral leaflets. The leaves may turn gold or yellow in the fall.
A hog-peanut seedling (L and LC), eventually produces trifoliate leaves (RC) that often turn yellow in fall (R).
American hog-peanut produces two types of flowers. The flowers on the upper branches look like typical pea flowers, hanging in loose pendant clusters (racemes) from leaf axils in August and September. The flowers are about ½ inch long with four slightly asymmetric fused pale green sepals. The five elongate petals may be white, pale pink, lilac or pale purple. The flowers open before fertilization and are usually cross-pollinated (chasmogamy).
Hog-peanut flowering on brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia triloba (L), flower cluster hanging from stem (LC), closeup of flowers (RC,R).
The flowers are followed by flat, oblong spotted pods that are pointed at both ends and usually contain three or four seeds. The seeds are ballistically dispersed and can be cooked to be eaten and used in the same ways as lentils.
The seed pods (L) each contain 3 or 4 seeds (LC, RC) that are a mottled brown at maturity (R).
A germinated hog peanut, the fleshy pod produced by cleistogamous flowers.
The flowers that occur on the lower, lateral branches are inconspicuous, lack petals and do not open (the term for flowers that are self-fertilized without opening is cleistogamous). The ground level stolons search for crevices in the soil where they produce the flowers that rest on or under the ground. These are followed by a single-seeded fleshy pod that buries itself just below the soil surface in a manner similar to peanuts (Arachis hypogaea, although it is not closely related to that plant). These underground fruits are edible and can be eaten raw or boiled to remove the hulls and the seed eaten like a nut. Many Native American people would they collect this “peanut” that can be up to ½ inch in diameter from the ground around the plant as a minor food source.
American hog-peanut can become a weed in shady gardens, here growing over Geranium sanguineum.
American hog-peanut grows well in most light conditions from full sun to full shade in moist soils of any type, and is typically found in and on the edge of woodlands, wet meadows and prairie, and in disturbed sites such as in gardens with dappled shade or along trails, roadsides and forest edges. It has occasionally been cultivated as a peanut substitute but yields are rather low. Nodules formed by certain strains of Rhizobium bacteria on the roots fix atmospheric nitrogen which is utilized by the growing plant and by other plants growing nearby. To control where the plants are not wanted, pull repeatedly, several times a year for several years. Because they tend to be mixed in with other plants, chemicals may be difficult to use without damaging other plants unless all vegetation is to be removed.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Plant Care: Potting Mix 101

Most plants need soil to live. It’s where their roots are and where they get their water from. But it may surprise you to learn that not all soil is soil. That is, although we see indoor plants potted in what looks like brown, soily, dirt, they may actually be potted in something else. Generally known in the horticulturist community as “potting mixes” or “artificial potting media”, this 1960’s invention has been in wide use since then for it’s lightweight, weed-free properties and its ability to sustain seemingly any plant.

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You may be thinking “why not just use outdoor soil for my indoor plants?” The truth is there are issues with that (see next paragraph), making artificial potting media superior. Allow us to explain.

When soil is taken from outdoors to indoors, you’re taking in all the critters that live in that soil too — critters that would love to eat your plants. You also run the risk of tracking in a soil-borne disease that may kill your plant. On top of all that, outdoor soil is primarily composed of clay, sand, and silt which are not only quite heavy but also prone to congealing and hardening when they dry out completely. Doesn’t sound so great for your indoor plant, does it?

Who came up with potting media/mix?

While we don’t know the first, we do know the best. The invention of Cornell Mix in the 1960’s by James Boodley & team at Cornell University catapulted the houseplant industry into life. The Cornell Mix formula is the basis of most horticulture mixes today. It provides the lightweight, weed-free media that allowed large-scale production of not just food crops, but any crop. Suddenly, large scale plant propagation was possible. Ornamental tropical foliage gained popularity soon after.

What’s in potting media/mix?

Most general potting mixes contain mostly peat, along with perlite and compost. Different mixes may have vermiculite, wood chips, sand or other materials added.

Breakdown by component:

Peat — the basis of most mixes and used in high proportions. Spongy and holds water.

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Perlite — white, light, pebbles formed from superheated volcanic glass. Aids in aeration and water control.

Sand — silicon dioxide. Aids in water drainage.

Vermiculite — helps hold water and provides a slow leak of micronutrients and places for fungi/microbes to aid the plants growth.

Wood chips/Bark — decaying organic matter that provides a slow release of macronutrients and is a “denser sponge” than peat. If cut coarse, can aid in drainage.

Compost — nutrient-rich and microbe rich matter that aids in plant growth. Smells earthy.

Glass/Rocks — cheap filler found in not-so-great mixes. Although the rocks could provide a trickle of micronutrients, their weight is enough to make them a lousy ingredient.

What media should you use?

What media you use really depends on where you grow your plants. For example, you will want to use a potting mix to grow plants, herbs and vegetables that are indoors. Soil is best for any outdoor planting in your herb or vegetable garden. Why? Soil is heavier than potting mix and will add unnecessary weight to your containers. It could even be detrimental to your plants health; indoor plants need good air circulation in their roots system and using soil in a planter that is often too heavy and compact makes it virtually impossible for plant roots to spread and blocks moisture from penetrating the soil. As a result, diseases and bacterias can easily creep on your plant and attack it — essentially, your plant could die.

In addition, different plants will sometimes prefer different potting mix make up. For example, a succulent, snake plant or aloe will like a media that is more porous, such as perlite, that water can run through quickly and not hold as much water. (We all know how they prefer to be on the dry side, right?) On the other hand, ferns and mini terrarium plants will prefer a media with more peat, since it helps the soil to stay uniformly moist, which is what most tropical plants prefer.

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Special mixes have been developed for different classes of plants. For example, succulent mix was developed with extra sand and coarser materials to aid in drainage for succulent growth. Orchid mix is mostly douglas fir bark, perlite and sphagnum moss. Although succulents can be planted in general potting mix without much fuss, orchids are epiphytes and must be planted in orchid mix, which resembles the trees that they grow on in the wild — they’re a little more high maintenance.

Bottom Line

Potting mix is different from outdoor soil. It’s best to use potting mix for any indoor plants. Use one that gives your plant roots the preferred air, moisture and nutrition balance it needs. Soil from the outdoors is heavy and is best used for outdoor gardening.

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